HARLEMWORLD: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America

John L. Jackson, Jr., Author Univ. of Chicago $30 (299p) ISBN 978-0-226-38998-1

From being "in vogue" during the Renaissance of the 1920s, when this thriving, culturally rich and diverse African-American community was a favorite entertainment nightspot for white down-towners, to the late 1960s, when its image was that of a strife-torn war zone, Harlem has become the mythological site of American "blackness." It is this myth—"Harlemworld"—that Jackson, a Columbia-trained sociologist and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, is eager to deconstruct. Leaving his Columbia University student housing and living on one of Harlem's commercial avenues, Jackson began doing field work and interviewing dozens of residents. For some, Harlem represents an actual return home ("this is where my people are from"); others, like Paul, a middle-class architect who just moved there, view it as a new, and complicated, beginning. Neatly and expertly weaving theory with analysis through these interviews (and while monitoring the increasingly rapid gentrification of the neighborhood), Jackson discovers that both identities built around race and class are far less monolithic than even Harlem residents believe. He also presents astute and often astonishing insights into the images of Harlem promoted in African-American–produced popular culture like rap, hip-hop and films like Hoodlum. While written from an academic perspective, the original and exceptionally perceptive analysis Jackson provides about race and class in U.S. culture will interest anyone trying to think them though. (Dec.)

Forecast:While this book never completely transcends its roots as a doctoral thesis, it does read enough like a trade book to be reviewed in newspapers; pundits will take it up either way, and journals like the New Republic are a lock. University libraries and syllabi will be a steady long-term market.

Reviewed on: 09/24/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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